Now that’s some nose!

Elvis at work
Photo courtesy Cincinnati Zoo

The Cincinnati Zoo has come up with an innovative way to use the nose attached to a Beagle: to detect pregnancies in endangered or threatened species. The Zoo hired a canine trainer from Kansas to work with Elvis, training him to alert when he detects a pregnancy in the excrement from zoo animals, specifically polar bears.

Evidently, normal tests are not effective at detecting pregnancies in polar bears, so Erin Curry, a researcher studying polar bear reproduction at the Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife in Cincinnati, had the idea of using a dog to check for pregnancy proteins in the polar bear feces.

Matt Skogen, owner of Iron Heart High Performance Working Dogs, was asked to train a dog specifically for this task. He has previously trained dogs for Homeland Security and the Federal Reserve Bank, but this is a new one for him. He’s used to training dogs to sniff out bombs, drugs, and even bed bugs, and he says it’s a honor to be involved in this project. “I felt the project was a noble cause and jumped at the opportunity to provide the research and work toward a positive conclusion,” Skogen said.

Elvis’ rate of correctly predicting a pregnancy in polar bears is 97%, which is about the same as most over-the-counter tests used for humans. Elvis trained by sniffing 200 samples from bears whose pregnancy status was known, and has now been presented with 34 samples from 17 zoo bears of unknown status.

Why is it important to know if a zoo bear is preggers? It seems that polar bears who are pregnant need to spend their winters hibernating in a den while their non-pregnant counterparts frolic in the cooler weather.

As global warming causes sea ice to melt, polar bears are decreasing in number in the wild. They are currently listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. Researchers hope to find out more about polar bear pregnancy in zoos so they can eventually increase the wild population. Good luck to the zoos who are awaiting word on whether or not their polar bears will be producing offspring!

Until next time,
Good day, and good dog!

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